Ah, the PR Blowjob Review
As professional critics of music criticism, we come across this type of thing all the time. It’s easily identifiable from the very first line of Jonah Bromwich’s review of the new Eleanor Friedberger album. Any discerning reader should be able to spot it from a mile off on the most distant of horizons:
“Eleanor Freidberger is making steady progress inward.”
Are those PR Blowjob Review alarm bells ringing for you? They should be, because although Jonah Bromwich may have come up with the basic structure of this sentence, the sentiment was very obviously dictated to him by a horn-rimmed glasses-sporting individual at Eleanor Friedberger’s record company, paid publicity management firm, or perhaps even from Eleanor Friedberger herself. “Jonah, man, make sure to put in there that this album is, like, a journey inward, you know? Something like that.” And right from this first line, our man Jonah takes us very far inward on a journey to the core of this age-old, third-party-fed dark corner of the music criticism spectrum.
Another dead giveaway for this type of review is the inclusion of an extensive backstory of the kind that would be dictated straight from the waxed mustache of an indie PR firm co-owner or in an email from, well, Eleanor Freidberger (email@example.com?). A skilled critic will render this backstory as organic as possible by threading it through different points in their album overview, and Jonah Bromwich is definitely a skilled critic, managing to blend the canned PR speak into the background of his review well enough to fool casual browsers. But Jonah isn’t fooling us. And he shouldn’t fool you either.
“Her terrific fourth album, Rebound, set in a post-2016 Greece…”
Look, this isn’t Radiohead we’re dealing with here. This is an artist obscure to all but the most deep-seeking Spotify subscribers. How many people on God’s Green Earth know that the girl from the Fiery Furnaces even puts out solo records let alone that she has decamped to Greece? 1-out-of-800,000? Less? If the line was, “With their mind-bending Revolver album, recorded after the Fab Four first experimented with acid…” it wouldn’t set off any alarms. But here it stands out as a stark indicator that Jonah Bromwich was fed this information and told to work it into the review.
“Jonah, if you could point out that the first three records were all about self-exploration and examination, that would be awesome.”
Jonah dutifully jots this down in his notebook:
“Over the course of three strong solo albums, she has interrogated her emotions and experiences…”
“Oh, but not in, like, a self-obsessed way or anything. It’s relatable, you know?”
Sure thing, he nods, still writing:
“…with a focus so sharp that her insistent self-examination has become an act of sociology more than narcissism.”
Nice save, Jonah.
The PR Bro continues: “The issue is that those three records sold, like, eleven copies each and didn’t get a whole lot of traction on blogs and stuff. Els can’t even sell out The Black Cat. So with this one we want to point out that things get a little darker and more enigmatic, you feel me? It isn’t so, ‘I walked to the door. I found my shoe. It’s noon and I don’t know what to do’ this time around, man. It’s tortured and stuff. It’s even kind of goth!”
Uh huh, uh huh, Jonah scratches his chin, already formulating sentences, entire paragraphs, in his mind:
“There are elements, however, that separate the album from its predecessors and suggest some tentative movement toward a new way of working. It’s as if Friedberger is cautiously extending a leg, searching for a foothold to help her swing to another, more daring, form of songwriting.”
Of course, going ‘80s goth is the oldest trick in the book when trying to kick a twee image into a darker place, and one wonders if Jonah himself thought this angle was kind of lame when it was being dictated to him by the third party that lent a guiding hand to this review. He definitely tries his best to dress up the cliche’, citing Rachel Cusk and using original enough lyrical descriptors like “broken poetry” but can’t seem to steer clear of tired images of “simmering, ominous synths.” But we can’t fault poor Jonah too much on this point. A PR Blowjob Review writer is only as good as the material they are given to work with.
Jonah seems to lose steam toward the middle of the review, allowing dead PR Blowjob Review giveaways to slip inside like mosquito through a hole in your tent at night.
“The track begins with a plea for amnesia as Friedberger loses the plot in an Athens hotel bar, figuratively and literally.”
We’ve looked up the lyrics to the track in question and a certain “Galaxy Bar” is mentioned, but there are hundreds of Galaxy Bars across the planet and how would he have known this was a reference to the one in Athens if it hadn’t been fed to him as part of the album’s backstory? A definitely slip-up on Jonah’s part.
By the end of the review Bromwich has given up and just starts letting entire PR-dictated paragraphs drop like commercials cutting into Youtube vids. Check out this paragraph and tell us if this is an album review or a PR campaign artist bio accompanying an album release:
“Friedberger had always wanted to go to Greece, so after months of touring followed by that bleak November, she escaped to Athens and assembled a band. But she didn’t write many of the songs on Rebound until she visited a club of the same name, which had been described to her as “an ’80s goth disco where everyone does the chicken dance.” The sound she discovered there resembled a Mediterranean knockoff of Joy Division or the Cure, and she imbued the new record with that spooky, dancy vibe, lacing its gentle psychedelia with a dash of foreboding. Like famous artistic pilgrimages to Ionia from Cusk’s novel Outline to Joni Mitchell’s dalliance with the goat-dancing redneck Cary Raditz on Crete, Rebound has the bleached, hazy feel of a sun-damaged Polaroid with a blurred figure in the corner.”
This paragraph is about 20% Jonah Bromwich and 80% press release, and judging by the small portion where Jonah himself bleeds through it seems that the record company has made a grave mistake in taking over this all-important Pitchfork review. Jonah is obviously a Friedberger fan from way back and holds enough original insight on her lyrics and artistic progression to formulate an organic, unscripted review that would go a lot further in promoting the album than the PR Blowjob treatment it receives here. For example, check out the genuine enthusiasm on display in this bit of lyrical analysis, a real sense of wonder that barely ever seeps through the jaded Fork exterior:
“What a lyric! It could be entirely literal, it could refer to some event that goes undescribed in the song, or it could simply be that the release from pain was the prize.”
A review full of these types of genuine “gee-whiz she’s a genius” moments would have done a whole lot more for Friedberger than a mere press release disguised as a critical piece. Instead, whoever is handling her rollout opted to invoke with the most obvious and already played-out hand in present-day music: The Post-Election Fallout. Anyone who regularly slogs their way through music reviews these days is most likely all-too-familiar with this stumbling point. If an artist refers to our Dear Leader in even the most cryptic fashion then the entire review will focus on this, missing many of the finer points in the music and its message. All it took was a single Karl Rove reference on a track from the last National album to generate headlines of the “Matt Berninger Takes On Trump In Epic Dirge (with crescendo)” variety and cause the record to plummet into the unenviable “misunderstood in its time” column. If a record doesn’t make any specific mention of Agent Orange or his surrounding slipstream then this often becomes a focus as well. Why isn’t the artist bringing it up? Is this a statement unto itself? There’s really no way to win, and the rollout on this Friedberger record is perfect proof. Are we supposed to think it’s totally awesome that she had the resources and time to run off to Greece after the election and have some sort of late-breaking Joy Division revelation while the rest of us are left to deal with the structural and psychic breakdown? Jonah does his absolute best to sell this PR boardroom talking point but understandably fails. Even as a fan, he most likely wasn’t feeling it.
Could the Fiery Furnaces have made enough dosh to still be affording Eleanor Friedberger semi-elaborate album rollouts after three records that sold in the low thousands combined? Is living in Athens so cheap that even those rare streaming service dime checks can fund month-long PR campaigns powerful enough to buy text on that ever-powerful Pitchfork gray space? Is Eleanor Friedberger good friends with individuals deep within the Fork hierarchy to the point where they will do whatever it takes to sell her record, happily planting paragraphs of third-party-fed text into the heart of their critical empire?
Whatever the case, this is very obviously a Blowjob PR Review no matter how skillfully Jonah Bromwich tries to disguise it.